I am Canadian
With that statement comes the pride of being part of a country that is more than the sum of her symbols. Being Canadian is more than maple leaves, beavers and syrup. Being Canadian is about acceptance and perseverance. Being Canadian is about knowing who you are and where you’ve come from.
So yes, my family is Canadian. But we are also German, and my husband and I embrace the importance of sharing the heritage of our family with our children.
This sharing is engrained within the daily ins and outs of our lives. It is in the little ‘smoking man’ who sits on the side hutch in the kitchen. Our smoking man was a gift from my father-in-law’s brother a few years ago and it has become tradition to light the incense cones during the holidays. I loved capturing his image as the smoke curled out of his mouth; a mouth that is stained from years of use.
We share the meanings of our two family names and how one means mistake and how the other exists because of a mistake. The lesson of illegible handwriting in a church record is found in the difference of three little letters.
The sharing of our heritage is in language and stories. Not all of these stories are easy to share. It is important for our children to know and understand the persecution their maternal grandfather faced just because he was German. The distrust and stereotyping of all Germans following WWII was difficult to shed even in the heart of the prairies. It didn’t matter that my father and his father were both born in this great country of ours.
Sometimes a family’s stories are challenging and at times difficult to share. Sometimes you wish you could brush them away and pretend they weren’t there. How do you explain to children that their father’s family history is stained with the blood of war and their ancestors fought for the wrong side.
When your children come to you in November and ask if anyone in the family fought in any of the Great Wars how many of you pull out an old fading photo of a young man in uniform? In our family, that man in uniform also wears the pin of the SS. In our house this is our chance to discuss how in many cases men (and women) are not given the choice of joining the military. We talk about how many have fought in wars they didn’t believe in. Then we discuss how their own grandfather came to Canada because he didn’t want his freedoms to be taken from him any longer. He was willing to fight for what he believed in and not for someone else’s agenda; this is the lesson he taught his own children and this is the lesson we hope to bestow on our own daughters.
In our house, we share all stories alike. A family’s heritage is not just decorations but a sum of the stories that have brought the members to where they are today.
With many thanks to my father and my husband’s tante, we can trace our family tree back nine generations. In the many branches of our family tree are stories of tragedy, perseverance and acceptance. It is these stories, glorified and ugly alike, we will share with our children, because one day they will be the story keepers of our family.
One day they will be the ones who are responsible for passing on the legacy and lessons of our collective history.
And if that is the case, I believe they deserve to know the whole story.